Food Safety News
Dozens of lawyers and law students fell ill after attending a Feb. 27 banquet in Philadelphia, and the incident is now a suspected foodborne illness outbreak, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The city’s health department told the Inquirer it is not able to discuss details of the outbreak. The restaurant, Joy Tsin Lau, a dim-sum hotspot, reportedly has a history of food safety problems.
The restaurant’s owner said that the illnesses weren’t caused by their food.
A health inspection just two weeks prior to the banquet noted that the restaurant had “unacceptable public health or food-safety conditions.”
Several banquet attendees reported experiencing diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps for days after attending.
City health officials have reportedly not responded to requests for information about the investigation or whether or not the restaurant was forced to close at any time. They are citing a law from 1955 called the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law, which prohibits health authorities from disclosing information on diseases.
On Thursday, a Los Angeles news station reported on a Salmonella outbreak that was kept under wraps by the Ventura County Health Department.
The White House released its National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria on Friday, but some critics say it doesn’t do enough to tackle antibiotic use on farms.
“Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health issues facing the world today. It causes tens of thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses every year — just in the United States alone,” said President Obama in a Q&A with WebMD, calling the new plan “comprehensive” and one that “addresses the problem from multiple angles at once.”
The five-year plan was developed by an interagency task force established last September and co-chaired by the Secretaries of Defense, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. It’s a “roadmap” for implementing the administration’s National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and addresses the recommendations made in the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report on antibiotic resistance.
Broadly, the plan has five goals: slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections, strengthen national One Health surveillance efforts, develop rapid diagnostic tests, accelerate the research and development of new antibiotics and other therapies, and improve international collaboration on prevention, surveillance, control and research.
Some Animal Antibiotics Specifics
The plan supports FDA’s Guidance for Industry #213, which will ban the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals, and the Veterinary Feed Directive, which ensures that the products can no longer be used without veterinary oversight.
Within the year, FDA has been directed to publish an enhanced summary report of the antibiotics sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals from 2009 to 2013 as a baseline against which to measure the effectiveness of Guidance #213. The agency also has to begin publishing periodic updates summarizing progress in adoption of the policy.
A five-year goal set for FDA, USDA and the animal agricultural industry is to analyze antibiotic use data and evaluate the impact of Guidance #213.
Another goal for FDA and USDA is to develop and implement a plan to increase monitoring of antibiotic-resistance patterns, as well as antibiotic sales, usage, and management practices, at multiple points in the production chain for food animals and retail meat.
Within three years, CDC has been directed to halve the time required to detect and characterize drug-resistant enteric pathogens through NARMS surveillance and reduce how long it takes to report susceptibility testing. The action plan also calls on CDC to increase susceptibility testing on Campylobacter isolates.
The plan advocates research into emerging zoonotic antibiotic-resistant pathogens on the farm and at slaughter, alternatives to antibiotics used for promoting growth in animals, the association between antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections and foodborne bacteria, and genes that confer resistance to facilitate genetic selection for animals with less susceptibility to infections whose treatments typically require significant use of antibiotics.
What Antibiotic Preservation Advocates Say
While the primary focus of the plan is human medicine, some critics say it doesn’t do enough in terms of animal antibiotic use.
“More than ever before, the White House is acknowledging the dangerous public health threat posed by the misuse of antibiotics in both human medicine and the livestock industry,” said Mae Wu, health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But the Obama administration needs to do more to reduce antibiotic use in animals that are not sick.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) earlier in the week, said the plan had “fallen woefully short of taking meaningful action.”
“With 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States being used in agriculture mostly for prevention, any meaningful solution to the looming antibiotic resistance crisis must begin with limits on the farm,” Slaughter said.
Steven Roach, senior analyst for Keep Antibiotics Working, said that the administration had “missed an opportunity” with regard to gaps in FDA’s Guidance #213 and Veterinary Feed Directive.
“Drug makers regularly exploit this loophole by advertising the growth benefits that can result from using antibiotics for disease prevention, and FDA has failed to crack down on this practice,” Roach said.
Keep Antibiotics Working believes Slaughter’s legislation would be more effective at cutting down antibiotic use on farms than FDA’s policies. PAMTA would ban all non-therapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production.
At a PCAST meeting Friday, Council Co-Chair Dr. Eric Lander said that using antibiotics to support animal health can have “fuzzy” boundaries.
“One of the issues we had on the PCAST study was the feeling that there just was not the kind of data that we needed to know how much of the resistance that arises on farms comes into the human health care system.”
When asked about failures to set targets for reductions in animal antibiotic use, an administration official said the action plan calls for better data regarding when and where antibiotics are fed to animals before deciding whether or not to impose further restrictions.
“While we’re pleased with the action plan’s continued emphasis on tracking antibiotic use in human medicine, we urge the administration to make even greater progress in reducing the use of antibiotics,” said Allan Coukell, senior director for health programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts.
“This administration has taken important first steps towards phasing out the use of antibiotics to promote growth in livestock,” he added. “We call now for a clear plan to review the safety of antibiotic use for disease prevention in food animals and establish systems to provide better and faster collection of data about antibiotic sales and use.”
Whatever happened to Jon Costa, the food safety manager for the food service vendor at both Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums in Kansas City, MO?
Costa went public last November with some stomach-churning food safety violations at the side-by-side stadiums where the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, respectively, play NFL football and Major League Baseball. Aramark Sports & Entertainment is the common food service vendor.
Aramark, in a letter obtained by ESPN’s Outside the Lines unit, reportedly fired Costa “for cause” on March 17, claiming that he violated the stadium food company’s policy by using the media to warn the public about alleged food safety problems.
Costa, himself a former health department inspector, grew concerned about what Aramark, the Chiefs, and Royals were allowing at the stadiums last year. When the World Series ended, he documented those concerns for the local health department and copied the media.
The Kansas City Health Department followed up with a Nov. 3 inspection of both stadiums and found violations at 20 of 26 food service stands, including 37 critical violations. Mold growth, filth and excessive fruit flies marked the inspections.
Aramark has declined to address Costa’s firing, citing privacy concerns “even if an individual chooses to discuss their situation publicly.” The company says it has served 17 million Kansas City fans since 2007 without a fatality due to food safety.
Costa went to work for Aramark as a food safety manager in April 2012 and was later named District Safety Manager for its Kansas City venues. He received praise and salary bumps until ending up on paid administrative leave on Nov. 5, 2014, two days after sharing his food safety concerns.
Costa subsequently filed a complaint against Aramark on Dec. 18, 2014, asking for reinstatement to his job, along with back pay and attorney’s fees. The notice he was fired came on St. Patrick’s Day, just a couple weeks ahead of the Royals home opener on April 6.
(This article by Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress, was first posted here on March 23, 2015, and is reposted with permission.)
“Is this local?”
This question, posed by consumers in restaurants and food markets across the country, has become a ubiquitous catchphrase. It even served as the subject of the very first sketch on IFC’s über-hipster comedy series “Portlandia.” The bit focused on a cloying couple so concerned with the premortem welfare of the chicken offered on a bistro’s menu that they ditched dinner to ride out to the farm and check the bird’s paperwork.
The local-food movement has gained steam in recent years, particularly in small, younger-skewing cities such as Portland, OR, and my hometown of Portland, ME. But it is spreading across the nation, too. As the movement gains supporters, including First Lady Michelle Obama, Americans are more frequently asking about the source and quality of their food. This is a relatively simple question to answer when it comes to farm-raised protein sources such as beef, pork, and the pampered pullet of “Portlandia.” Seafood, however, is an entirely different animal.
Fortunately, as the first lady has taken her healthy eating message to the masses, her husband has been working to shore up the nation’s seafood tracking systems. During a March 15 appearance at Seafood Expo North America in Boston, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, and the U.S. Department of State released an action plan outlining how the recommendations of the 19-agency Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud will be implemented. In short, President Barack Obama is giving seafood lovers a much clearer picture of what eventually makes it onto their plates.
The actions initiated by this plan fall into two separate categories: addressing illegal, unregulated, and unreported, or IUU, fishing — which primarily happens among foreign fleets and in international waters — and increasing consumers’ ability to trace all aspects of their fish from bait to plate. This particularly applies to roughly 90 percent of the seafood imported from foreign vessels and processing facilities.
IUU fishing — sometimes referred to in more colorful terms as black market or pirate fishing — is truly a scourge. The pirate moniker evokes rogue vessels plundering the ocean of its bounty by fishing beyond sustainable limits, and indeed, this occurs on a grand scale. According to NOAA, IUU fishing costs honest fishermen anywhere from $10 billion to $23 billion annually. Such activities can also encompass even darker crimes, including human trafficking and slave labor.
Laudable work by the Environmental Justice Foundation and other organizations has unearthed harrowing stories of abducted workers sold into slave labor, primarily to Thai vessels. At sea, the captains target low-value ocean species that are only suitable to be ground into fishmeal and used as feed for southeast Asian shrimp farms that primarily serve the U.S. and European markets. The laborers are physically abused and, in some cases, worked literally to death aboard boats that fish perpetually without returning to port, using tenders to resupply and transport the fishmeal to market. This leaves the workers with no chance of escape, particularly since many of them had never seen the ocean before, let alone learned how to swim.
This shocking subhuman treatment is a jarring and extreme example of the need for a greater understanding of where our fish comes from — hence, the traceability component of the Obama administration’s action plan. In addition to eschewing a side order of slave labor with our scampi, traceability also means ensuring that the fish Americans consume — whether farmed or wild caught — comes from safe, reputable sources with labels correctly asserting what it is.
Assuring the source and certainty of our seafood is more of a problem than most Americans realize. A 2011 investigation by The Boston Globe found that nearly half of the fish it tested from Boston restaurants was not what the menu actually advertised. And when the paper followed up with the same establishments a year later, more than two-thirds of the samples tested flunked again. On a grander scale, the environmental group Oceana released a report in 2013 estimating that one-third of all seafood sold in the United States is mislabeled, with a lower-value species usually substituted for a higher-value one. The report found that fish labeled as red snapper were actually a different species — usually tilapia, perch, rockfish, or sea bream — in an astounding 87 percent of its samples.
The statistics on inspection and tracking of fish before it reaches the U.S. market are even more troubling. According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, inspected just 0.1 percent of all aquaculture imports for illegal antibiotics and chemicals from 2006 to 2011. It inspected just 1.5 percent of Chinese aquaculture facilities during the same period. This occurred despite reports — including a 2007 Washington Post exposé — detailing Chinese fish farms’ widespread use of chemicals banned in the United States. These farms used some additives prohibited even in China, such as the carcinogenic organic compound known as malachite green.
Despite these ominous indications, the actions announced at Seafood Expo North America will immediately begin to turn the tide against shady operators and questionable imports, leveling the playing field for honest, hardworking U.S. fishermen. The 15 specific actions enumerated in the administration’s action plan include expanded local, state, and federal enforcement capacity; provisions to allow more robust information sharing among federal agencies to target criminal operators, and heightened consideration of fisheries and aquaculture issues in diplomatic negotiations and trade agreements. And while not as immediate a fix, perhaps the action most relevant to consumers is establishing a means of identifying the wild-caught and aquaculture species most at risk of fraud and illegal activity and requiring that electronically traceable data accompany each import shipment of these species by mid-2016.
In the interim, don’t let fear turn you away from one of the healthiest sources of protein. Oceana’s Beth Lowell has enumerated seven recommendations for consumers who want to ensure that they’re eating clean fish. Still, the simplest and most effective thing one can do to ensure purchased fish is healthy and sustainable — and not sourced from slave ships — is to buy American. All seafood must be labeled with its country of origin, so if it’s U.S. caught and processed, its label must state, “Product of USA.”
By asking for and purchasing U.S.-caught or -raised fish, Americans can support sustainable fishing practices, avoid the possibility of inadvertently supporting slavery, eliminate the risk of illegal additives, and help our fishermen recoup some of the revenue they would otherwise lose to illegal and unsustainable competitors abroad. American fisheries are among the best managed in the world. The actions laid out by the Obama administration earlier this month will help other countries — particularly less-developed nations — rise to meet the standard that American consumers have come to expect.
The third death associated with marijuana edibles could not have come at a worse time for the state’s 15-month-old legal pot industry. Services are being held today in Tulsa, OK, for Luke Goodman, 23, who reportedly killed himself last Saturday night in a condo at Colorado’s Keystone Ski Area, where he was staying for two weeks with his family.
It will be a few weeks before toxicology reports will be returned, but Goodman’s family and friends suspect that edible marijuana was a factor in the self-inflicted gunshot death. His mother, Kim Goodman, blames her son’s death on “a complete reaction to the drugs.”
Another controversy from a death linked to marijuana edibles was not what the industry needed, especially this week when it was making legislative moves to kill a regulation taking effect in 2016 calling for all marijuana-infused foods to have a distinct look.
The bill to loosen the coming requirement that marijuana-infused cookies or candies be clearly identified as pot-infused did not get a single vote in the committee. The outcome was hailed as a bipartisan agreement that pot-infused food is going to look different than regular food in Colorado come 2016.
It left the conservative Colorado Springs Republican who sponsored the bill to repeal the requirement, state Sen. Owen Hill, charging his colleagues with “micromanagement.”
Edibles account for about 45 percent of Colorado’s newly legal pot market.
Goodman and his cousin, Caleb Fowler, reportedly purchased $78 worth of marijuana products, including edibles, last Saturday afternoon. They began ingesting peach tart candies, each containing the recommended dose of 10 mg of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.
Fowler says his cousin ate at least five of the candies and later became jittery and was talking incoherently. Goodman did not want to leave the condo with the family later in the evening and got the handgun out that the family used for protection when traveling.
The two other Colorado deaths associated with pot-infused foods were:
- Wyoming college student Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, who took a leap from a Denver hotel balcony after eating pot-infused cookies. “Marijuana intoxication” was listed by the coroner as a significant factor in his death.
- Kristine Kirk, 44, who was allegedly shot and killed by Richard Kirk. She had called 911 to report that her husband was experiencing hallucinations after taking marijuana candy with prescription medicine. Prosecutors have charged him with first degree murder.
Over a four-month period, a popular deli in the Los Angeles area sickened at least 21 people with Salmonella poisoning, but the Ventura County Department of Public Health did not notify the public when the first cases were reported and they began their investigation.
A new report by Los Angeles news station NBC4 revealed that Brent’s Deli in Westlake Village, CA, had been associated with Salmonella illnesses for months over the course of this past summer and was under an outbreak investigation. But while that investigation was going on, health officials did not announce any illnesses or outbreak investigation to the public.
The first public revelation of the outbreak did not come until January 2015, when food safety attorney Bill Marler released health department records obtained as part of a lawsuit filed by a woman who contracted Salmonellosis after eating at the deli. The outbreak was then reported in Food Safety News and elsewhere.
Now, Marler is representing several people who came down with Salmonellosis after eating at Brent’s. (His law firm, Marler Clark, underwrites Food Safety News.)
The director of the health department, William Stratton, told the news station that they do not typically alert the public when they are in the midst of an investigation.
County health departments for Los Angeles and San Francisco, however, have alerted the public to outbreaks in recent years in an attempt to warn prospective customers about the potential for getting sick, and so that other customers experiencing symptoms will know to seek out medical care.
NBC4 found that Brent’s Deli has repeatedly been cited for “major health violations” going back to 2007. The deli was also associated with other Salmonella illnesses in 2007, 2010 and 2013, the station reported.
A co-owner of Brent’s told NBC4 that after learning of the outbreak, the restaurant voluntarily closed down, sanitized their facilities, and hired a third-party company to improve their overall food safety.
Watch and read the full NBC4 report here.
The state with the largest retail sales of raw milk in the United States is warning consumers that the consumption of unpasteurized (raw) dairy products may cause serious illness.
The warning from Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and State Health Officer, was issued because six Northern California residents have recently been diagnosed with campylobacteriosis, a bacterial infection that can come from consuming contaminated raw milk.
A recent investigation conducted by CDPH identified multiple bottles of Claravale Farm raw milk that tested positive for Campylobacter. Under the direction of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), Claravale Farm initiated a recall of the affected product.
California, where the sale of raw milk at the retail level is legal, continued with a public health warning that states:
“Campylobacteriosis may cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting within two to five days after exposure to the organism. Illness can last for up to a week or more and can be especially severe for those who have weakened or compromised immune systems, and for young children and the elderly. Although most people who get campylobacteriosis recover completely, some patients do suffer long-term effects, including arthritis and paralysis.
“Raw milk is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals that has not been pasteurized (heat treated) to kill harmful germs. A wide variety of germs that can make people sick have been found in raw milk, such as Brucella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, including E. coli O157. E. coli O157 can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a sometimes deadly cause of anemia and potentially permanent kidney failure. Raw milk contaminated with disease-causing bacteria does not smell or look any different from uncontaminated raw milk, and there is no easy way for the consumer to know whether the raw milk is contaminated.
“Over the past decade, CDPH, other states, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have investigated numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with consumption of raw milk and raw milk products. These have included outbreaks of illnesses due to Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, and Salmonella. Many involved young children. Illnesses associated with raw milk continue to occur.”
Although raw milk is legally available in retail stores in California, CDPH does not recommend drinking raw milk or raw milk products, or giving raw milk, colostrum, raw cream or other raw milk products to children.
Raw milk products sold in California are required to carry this warning label:
“WARNING: Raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk dairy products may contain disease-causing microorganisms. Persons at highest risk of disease from these organisms include newborns and infants; the elderly; pregnant women; those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids; and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity.”
Consumers experiencing any ill effects after consuming raw dairy products should consult their health care provider.
There were two reports published Wednesday on the status of viruses in the UK food chain.
The first, a report by Food Standards Agency (FSA) Chief Scientific Advisor Guy Poppy, explores what viruses in food are, how they cause disease, how FSA is working with others to use science to understand them, and some of the challenges around reducing the risks.
Two issues the report says the agency is working on are ways of detecting whether norovirus or Hepatitis E found in food is infectious and commissioning research on the heat stability of Hepatitis E due to uncertainty about how effective conventional cooking practices are in eliminating it from contaminated meat.
Poppy’s report also stated that Hepatitis A infections in the UK are “rare with the number of reported cases in England and Wales falling over the past decade.”
The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), an independent advisory committee which provides expert advice to FSA, also published an extensive review of viruses in the food chain.
Some of the report’s findings included:
- In almost all incidents where a viral source is suspected, proper investigation is not performed.
- The proportion of norovirus transmitted by food is still uncertain.
- The burden of Hepatitis E transmitted by food, including pork and pork products, is still uncertain, although likely to be significant.
- Available evidence suggests that Hepatitis E is able to withstand the current minimum standard pasteurization process of 70 degrees Celsius for 2 minutes in pork products contaminated experimentally.
- Limited data suggest contamination of bivalves with Hepatitis E RNA and a possible link between Hepatitis E and shellfish consumption.
- The contribution of contaminated fruit and vegetables to foodborne norovirus and Hepatitis A is uncertain, but the impact at population level could be significant given the consumption levels.
- The public health relevance of asymptomatic carriage is not well understood.
- Authoritative information on risks associated with different foodstuffs and definitive cooking instructions is hard to find on government websites.
- There is a lack of clear and consistent advice on recommended food preparation and cooking advice to reduce risk.
The report made many recommendations for government departments, including the need for more research in certain areas and clearer advice for consumers.
FSA stated that the government will “respond in due course when the recommendations have been considered in detail.”
“It is fitting to have chosen foodborne viruses as the first subject, as it provides a background to the ACMSF’s important review and highlights the work the FSA is already doing to address this major issue,” Poppy said. “These two reports demonstrate how the science and evidence collected by the FSA and our collaborators informs our advice to the public and helps us to understand how we can better protect UK consumers.”
Raw foods that legally reach Europe, including plants, fruits, and vegetables, pose no risk of Ebola virus transmission, according to a new report by scientists with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
And no human has ever been known to become infected with the Ebola virus from consumption of legally important foods into the European Union from African countries.
The food exported from Africa would have to be contaminated at the point of origin, the food would need to contain a viable virus (“capable of surviving”) when it arrives into the EU, and the person has to be infected following foodborne exposure.
In their risk assessment, EFSA experts identify several knowledge and data gaps — for example, how long the virus could survive in food.
The report was developed by EFSA scientists and external experts, including two from the World Health Organization. In a previous report, EFSA scientists assessed the risk of Ebola transmission through bushmeat illegally imported into Europe from Western and Central Africa, concluding that it was low.
Outbreaks of Zaire Ebola virus disease have been reported in nine countries so far: Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
All these countries can export fruits and vegetables into the EU, with the exception of potatoes.
Experts now believe the year-old Ebola outbreak, which has infected 24,000 people and killed 10,000 of them, could be over by this summer.
I want to fix food.
Right now, there is no way for me to fix food with my law degree. Most food interests are funneled to environmental law or legal aid organizations. Environmental lawyers fight agencies, and legal aid lawyers (on behalf of farm workers) fight farmers. A food fix will not happen without agencies and farmers. So, the food fix will not come from the environmental or legal aid lawyers.
The need couldn’t be greater. The food system stands on the back of our broken immigration system, exploiting the most vulnerable in this country and around the world — a 21st century, near-slavery system that Americans tolerate. Fresh foods pose the risk of sickening consumers with microbial contamination, and non-fresh foods make bodies sluggish. Agencies are captured, complacent, and overworked. Farmers are both idealized and vilified, and non-corporate farmers are increasingly rare. Nourishing farmland is more profitable as development, and droughts strain already scarce water sources.
Food will not be fixed without looking at the problem from a “system” viewpoint. This is incompatible with normal legal practices, which narrow issues to pinpoint precision. Lawyers are expected to be experts in a narrow field, risking ethical considerations if one takes cases outside of their area of expertise. But this practice of “narrowing” is exactly what got the food system to the point that it is at now. We didn’t consider several steps ahead, or look at impacted stakeholders, and have a system where both the consumption and production sides of the food chain are plagued.
The non-legal solutions have not worked. Food policy folks have been pushing the idea that redirecting consumer demand toward “ethical” food will create a better food system in our capitalist economy. This effort has focused on product labels, resulting in confusing and unenforced product claims as a justification for higher prices. True, a food system reform fix will necessarily result in higher food prices, and those companies currently implementing good production practices have to charge higher prices, resulting in a need to convey the consumer benefits through marketing. However, other companies that are not fully committed to high labor and environmental standards have caught on that ethical labels and marketing will increase profits. This market approach has, at best, created a market solution: It has created an alternative product that is available and affordable to some. This leaves the policy to be steered toward the issues most relevant to the wealthy. At worst, it has created an information system that ranges from simple exploitation of consumers’ outrage to fraud. It has not fixed food.
Asymmetrical information may not be the reason that food labels are ineffective. Calorie information, for example, is almost ubiquitously available, but that has not stopped obesity from rising in America. There are issues of access to healthy foods, knowledge of how to prepare them, and having time to do so. Thus, information in itself is not always the answer. Information does not equal education. These are systemic issues that need systemic reforms.
I think the idea that leveraging consumer demand toward “ethical” products has stalled actual progress for food system reform. It has misdirected efforts away from direct legislative, regulatory, and litigation actions. It has confused consumers and undermined the integrity of the food label. Putting reform solely in the hands of consumers (especially when only a small portion can afford to access the policy steering labels) may not be the best way forward considering that the interests at stake include public health, health care costs, the environment, and labor and immigration.
So, it is time to regroup and look at what the food reform movement and labels on consumer products are trying to achieve. Are they trying to achieve fair pay for workers? Access food that nourishes bodies instead preserving them like Twinkies? Access land that is free of toxins and properly zoned to grow said food? That’s the work of lawyers. If those issues are what we are really trying to achieve, then we will need more consumer information and food costs will rise. So, in that sense, food labels and their effects are getting us a small way there. But to fully achieve these goals, other economic and policy factors must come into play besides consumer demand. It is a system, and consumers cannot do it alone. There is a great need for lawyers to utilize their policy and litigation tools in the fight for a better food system.
The need for lawyers is apparent to those who speak to small farmers, field workers, consumers eating bad food that makes them sick, and the businesses trying sell good food. The acceptance of “food law” as a legal specialty can start at law schools. Food law and policy courses are popping up around the country. Much like environmental law, which surveys statutory and regulatory schemes, food law can survey all of the laws that food encounters along its lifespan — from agricultural production to consumer products. Students can activate their social networks as student organization leaders. They bring practitioners into school, energizing both attorneys and students alike, and debate current issues. Student organizations are also well-known for doing public service projects and pro bono work. Practicing attorneys can incorporate food work into their practice by considering the food system as a whole when counseling clients and selecting food law cases for their pro bono work.
Most importantly, food law needs a comprehensive public interest legal organization. Just as environmental law has Earthjustice and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), food needs an organization that houses both policy and litigation and which is not profit-driven. A food law nonprofit could have teams of issue groups, such as farmland preservation, antitrust, pesticides, farmworker wages, and foodborne illness. This will allow coordination. By aligning priorities under one organization, different teams in the food fight will not inadvertently sabotage issues that another team is fighting to prioritize.
There are a few developments that, I think, would be critical to both advancing a better food system and getting food law established in jurisprudence. First, food lawyers need to take antitrust law off the shelf. Right now, the major trend is to mobilize consumers to affect the production side of the food chain, such as the consumer demand issue discussed above, as well as consumer protection and product liability litigation. Lawyers have a tool to maintain competition so that no single firm or group’s collusive efforts harm consumers, at least in terms of protecting prices. The food industry is complex in its ownership and contract structures. The food industry attempts to bypass protections by systems of franchising and contracting. By contracting with producers and farmers, industry firms are able to make policy and business decisions while attempting to avoid liability and antitrust enforcement. Antitrust has been getting recent attention because of the book “Foodopoly” by Wenonah Hauter. With the qualifiers that my antitrust experience is limited to one law school course and I have not read Hauter’s book, I will say that I don’t think that antitrust is the great capitalism-equalizer that many people think it is. It seeks to stabilize consumer prices — not to vindicate social values that are trampled by “big businesses.” I think there is some room to help break up the power structure that dominates food.
Second, lawyers need to counsel small farm operations. Small and independent farmers and food producers need assistance with regulatory compliance, especially after the Food and Drug Administration’s Produce Safety and Preventive Controls Rules, promulgated under the Food Safety Modernization Act, go into effect. These rules will require farmers and producers to test equipment and other sources of microbial contamination and maintain records of these tests. There are a number of alternatives or exemptions in the laws that should be explained to farmers so they don’t spend more time and money than necessary on these requirements. Further, independent famers and producers need counselors when entering into contracts with bigger food companies; whether they are entering franchise agreement or supplying products, smaller players need adequate counseling to secure the best bargain they can get.
Finally, consumer class actions are a necessary tool. My discussion above pointing to some of the weaknesses in relying on consumers is not to say that consumers are not the linchpin of a better food system. They are. But leveraging consumer demand is not how they are most effective. Litigation is a more direct and impactful weapon against potential wrongdoers. Be it false advertising, unfair competition, or product liability, impact litigation can change the law, provide meaningful remedies to consumers, and impact the pocketbooks (and therefore the decisions) of the industry. I hope food impact litigation evolves out of traditional torts, which necessitates some statutory or regulatory protections. I want to find a way to say that consumers did not think they were buying lethargy, diabetes, and a gut. I want a lawsuit that recognizes that the true nature of modern food has negative health outcomes because it is loaded with salt, sugars, or pesticides, and that companies are not open about the health effects of these ingredients when consumed in the quantity offered in the product. Too often consumers are blamed for overeating, without acknowledging that processed food is designed to be addictive. I want a lawsuit that does not shame eaters (e.g., everyone) for eating.
When I say I want to fix food, people should immediately say, “Get a lawyer.” The food system is unjust from origin to end. The legal community needs to adapt and recognize the new field in town. To start, the legal community can adopt a uniform definition of food law: “Food law is a term that refers to all of the laws that food encounters along its lifespan — from agricultural production to consumer products.” It will also take pioneers willing to work hard while being underpaid in service to this goal. Firms and governments need to fund fellows. Fellowships are the only way to jump-start action and counseling efforts immediately in communities that desperately need it. It will also take some landmark cases and a court willing to protect the interests of eaters, understanding that eating is a human instinct that is being unjustly manipulated for profit. It was visionary cases and judges that spurred environmental law, as well as the public interest organizations that continue to protect the environment’s interests. Food, too, needs a good lawyer.
In recent years, numerous cities around the world have adopted systems that require restaurant health inspection scores to be communicated clearly at the restaurant. In New York City, prospective diners see an A, B, or C grade in the restaurant’s front window. Elsewhere, customers see a percentage score out of 100.
Communicating a satisfactory amount of information in a simple placard is no small feat and, on the whole, many consumers experience confusion and dissatisfaction with the information as it’s presented.
That’s the conclusion of a crowd-funded consumer survey conducted by design students at the University of Washington. The researchers sought out consumer feedback on a range of restaurant grading systems to better understand how people react to them: Are they helpful? Could they be better?
The report also aims to better inform the design process in Washington’s King County for a new restaurant placarding system that will cover Seattle and the rest of the county.
They learned a lot from the consumer surveys. For one, the participants valued the most recent restaurant inspection score over past scores. They also felt that a number of common systems lacked informational depth, and they wanted to see the inspection dates and individual inspection scores that factored into the average rating.
The study was organized by Sarah Schacht, an open government consultant and two-time E. coli patient. After coming down with her second E. coli infection from a restaurant with poor health inspection scores, Schacht created the original public petition to require clear displays of restaurant grades in King County.
As the sole member of the public serving on King County’s committee for developing the placarding system, Schacht felt the system needed more input from the people it would be designed for — King County residents.
She turned to students within the University of Washington’s Human Centered Design Department, who would conduct the study, and then raised $840 on crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo to cover expenses for the preliminary research.
The study’s participants were most accustomed to seeing scores represented as letter grades in ABC format. If a system used numbers, people expected them to be a percentage score out of 100 and were confused if the scale was different, Schacht said.
Pass-fail systems were not a popular option, and participants generally expected that a star-rating system would be associated with food reviews and not health inspections. Of the participants, 83 percent said they were most concerned about the most recent inspection score compared to past scores.
“We thought the average scores would be interesting to people,” said Will Richey, a UW design student and one of the three members of the research team. “But in both focus groups, people brought up the fact that the restaurant industry has such a high turnover with workers and managers that they’re most interested in seeing the most recent score.”
When the team members presented their findings to stakeholders in government and the restaurant industry, the stakeholders were also surprised to hear that people weren’t predominantly interested in the average score, said Leilani Roylo, another UW design student and team member.
The team also found that 57 percent of participants said they have never looked up restaurant inspection scores before. Establishing an effective restaurant placarding system could make a big impact on how restaurants perform in their inspection and how consumers choose where to dine, Richey said.
“I’m really hopeful that this will be effective,” he said.
Schacht agreed. The introduction of placarding systems to Toronto restaurants in 2002 coincided with a 30-percent reduction in foodborne illness.
In February, consumer review website Yelp revealed a study showing that restaurants with health inspection scores displayed on the website were more likely to improve their scores the next time around, compared to restaurants without publicized scores.
In Seattle, the new system is still under development, and health department officials hope to be testing a pilot program in late 2015 or early 2016.
As for the consumer survey itself, Schacht said it was a great example of what governments could accomplish on a small budget.
“For governments considering borrowing this model, or nonprofits who want to replicate our work at a local level, this is valuable research that’s possible to do on a budget,” she said.
After recently recalling its spinach dip sold in Bay Area Costco stores over Listeria concerns, La Terra Fina of Union City, CA, is expanding its recall to include additional spinach artichoke dip products:
Recalled ProductsProduct Description Item # UPC Code Best By Date Retailer Region Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan Dip made with Greek Yogurt 31-oz. tub 379903 6-40410-51338-9 4/14/15
4/20/15 Costco – NW Region Chunky Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan Dip 31-oz. tub 407600 6-40410-51193-4 3/31/15
4/29/15 Costco – MW, NE & SE Regions Chunky Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan Dip 31-oz. tub 4300193 6-40410-51193-4 3/28/15
4/29/15 Smart & Final-West Coast
Following its voluntary recall of Organic Spinach Dip this past Friday, La Terra Fina is expanding the recall to include these products that were manufactured on the same production equipment on the same day as the Organic Spinach Dip and are being recalled out of an abundance of caution.
The recalled products were distributed to Costco stores in the Northwest, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast regions and Smart & Final stores along the West Coast only.
There have been no confirmed cases of illness in relation to these products to date. However, due to the time required to trace a foodborne illness back to a specific food product, it is impossible to say whether or not any illnesses have occurred.
Only products with the “best by” dates above are being recalled. The “best by” date for each product can be found on the side of the container. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged to discard them or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.
On Tuesday, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would ban non-therapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production.
“My legislation would save eight critical classes of antibiotics from being routinely fed to healthy animals and would reserve them only for sick humans and sick animals,” Slaughter said. “Right now, we are allowing the greatest medical advancement of the 20th century to be frittered away, in part because it’s cheaper for factory farms to feed these critical drugs to animals rather than clean up the deplorable conditions on the farm.”
In addition to treating disease, antibiotics are used in livestock production at sub-therapeutic levels for disease prevention and growth promotion. These practices contribute to the spread of drug-resistant pathogens in both livestock and humans and threaten the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat even common infections.
Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress, has been a co-sponsor of the bill since 1999 and the main sponsor since 2007. In a press conference Tuesday announcing her reintroduction of the legislation, Slaughter praised recent decisions by fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s to stop feeding antibiotics to their animals, adding that “the government has a role, too, when more than 80 percent of the antibiotics used in this country are used on healthy farm animals.”
In a study recently published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers estimated that livestock consumed about 63,151 tons of antimicrobials in 2010 and expect the number to increase by 67 percent by 2030.
“We need this bill so that we become the leaders in the world on this issue,” said Lance Price, a professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, at the press conference. “We’re lagging behind Europe, but we need to lead the developing world because there it’s no holds barred.”
Price added that PAMTA is the “only serious leadership” he’s seen on animal antibiotics.
In the 113th Congress, PAMTA had 78 co-sponsors and was endorsed by 450 health, agriculture, environmental, food safety and nutrition, animal protection, religious, labor and consumer advocate groups.
And 50 cities across the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle, have passed resolutions encouraging Congress to pass PAMTA and the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA), which Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) reintroduced in Congress earlier this month.
In addition to PAMTA, Slaughter will be introducing the Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency Act (DATA), which would provide better information on the amount and use of antibiotics and other antimicrobials given to animals raised for human consumption.
DATA, previously sponsored by the now-retired Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), would require drug manufacturers to obtain and provide better information to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on how their antimicrobial drugs are used in food-producing animals. It would also require large-scale producers of poultry and livestock to submit data to FDA detailing the type and amount of antibiotics contained in the feed given to their animals.
Along with many other advocates of antibiotic preservation, Slaughter has been critical of FDA’s Guidance for Industry #213, which asks animal pharmaceutical companies to remove growth-promotion claims from medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals. She is concerned that the drugs will simply be re-listed with new “disease-prevention” labels but still be used in the same way.
“If we want to prevent a nightmarish post-antibiotic future, citizens of this country need to speak up and demand that their leaders enact enforceable, verifiable limits on the use of antibiotics on the farm,” Slaughter said.
A school food safety bill in Wisconsin would treat lunch rooms like restaurants in that someone on staff would be required to obtain a food protection certificate before the facility could serve students.
Assembly Bill (AB) 37 is awaiting action in the Wisconsin Senate after clearing the Assembly on a voice vote March 17.
Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva), sponsor of AB 37, said that 75 percent of Wisconsin school lunch programs associated with the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have voluntarily obtained food protection certificates.
“Nearly 720,000 meals are served to our students in Wisconsin on a daily basis which equates to approximately 125 million meals each school year,” Petryk said. “This is a staggering number of meals being served, making the potential for foodborne illness a very real possibility. This legislation will help to ensure that our school lunches are safe and pose minimal health risks to students.”
The bill would simply extend the requirement for restaurants to any school lunch program associated with the NSLP, meaning it would apply to about 97 percent of all public schools and about 38 percent of private schools.
Food protection certificates are good for five years and are obtained through the Department of Health Services for testing fee of $10. A 10-year testing course is available through the Department of Public Instruction for $100. Petryk says its an affordable program to make school meals safe and free of foodborne illness.
The school food safety bill began moving quickly after a March 4 public hearing that drew no opposition to the new requirement. One amendment to the original bill was successfully offered by Petryk. It simply makes the “operator or manager” of the lunchroom responsible for obtaining the certificate.
All six witnesses at Tuesday’s House Committee on Agriculture hearing argued against mandatory biotechnology labeling laws. Most of their testimony praised the efficiency they believe GE crops provide to farmers and enumerated the costs they say labeling would inflict on farmers, manufacturers and consumers.
“Every major health and regulatory organization has found that GMOs are as safe as any other food and as such do not require any special labeling,” said Chris Policinski, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes. “This is what our own FDA has concluded and is further supported by a 2011 summary report from the European Commission covering a decade of publicly funded research, 130 research projects and 50 research groups, which concluded there is no scientific evidence of higher risks from GE crops.”
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 37 percent of the general public say GE foods are safe, while 88 percent of scientists say they are.
Nina Fedoroff, senior science advisor for OFW Law, who previously served as the Science and Technology Adviser to Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton, told the committee that most American consumers believe GE foods are unsafe because of “increasingly strident efforts of determined anti-GMO activists to convince the public that GMOs are bad.”
Adding a GE label to food won’t actually help consumers make meaningful distinctions about safety because “GM foods on the market today are as safe as, and nutritionally equivalent to, their non-GM counterparts,” Fedoroff said.
“There is no food safety or nutritional difference that requires an additional label,” said Thomas Dempsey, Snack Food Association president and CEO. “Going down a path which calls for mandatory GMO labels sets a bad precedent for future calls for mandatory labels for issues that are not related to food safety or nutrition.”
But labeling proponents pointed to last week’s decision by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify the herbicide glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” as evidence that GE crops can negatively impact human health.
“Glyphosate is used mostly on genetically engineered corn, soybeans, cotton, and sugar beets, but it is also used by everyday gardeners on their lawns,” said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“The widespread adoption of GMO crops have led to an explosion in the use of a probable carcinogen,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at Environmental Working Group, told Food Safety News.
And when the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to approve new types of apples that have been genetically engineered not to brown as quickly after being cut, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) noted that the alteration could lead to an increased health risk.
“Pre-sliced apples are a frequently recalled food product,” CFS stated. “Once the whole fruit is sliced, it has an increased risk of exposure to pathogens. Since browning is a sign that apples are no longer fresh, ‘masking’ this natural signal could lead people to consume contaminated apples.”
Last year, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act to give FDA the sole authority for mandatory labeling of GE foods and to prohibit voters from proposing initiatives for labeling GE food at the state level. The bill, dubbed by critics as the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know” (or DARK) Act, was reintroduced in Congress on Wednesday.
In February, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) reintroduced legislation to require FDA to label foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.
FDA currently supports voluntary labeling in which food manufacturers indicate whether their products have or have not been developed through genetic engineering “provided such labeling is truthful and not misleading.”
Superior Foods Inc. of Watsonville, CA, is recalling 8,475 cases of Simply Balanced 10-oz. Frozen Organic Shopped Spinach due to the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes. This action is based on a recall notice Superior Foods received from one of its organic frozen spinach suppliers.
Simply Balanced Organic Chopped Spinach 10-oz steam in bag
DPCI # (Department, Class, Item.) 270-00-0663
UPC Code – 85239 00663
Production Date Code and Best By Code
4360SF3 through 7 J1 Best By 26/06/2016
4360SF3 through 7 J2 Best By 26/06/2016
5026SF4 through 8 J1 Best By 26/07/2016
5026SF4 through 8 J2 Best By 26/07/2016
5051SF2 through 4 J1 Best By 20/08/2016
5051SF2 through 4 J2 Best By 20/08/2016
Superior Foods Inc. stated that the company is not aware of any illness complaints to date related to this event. This recall is being conducted with the knowledge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Consumers who have any of the product identified are urged to dispose of it, or return it to the store where it was purchased for an exchange or full refund.
Consumers with questions may call 1-866-672-0811, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. EDT.
Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
Twin City Foods Inc. of Stanwood, WA, is recalling the following products because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes:
Meijer Organics Chopped Spinach, 16 oz. frozen packages
UPC 41250 02362
Package code: BEST BY FEB 2017 50415
Distributed to warehouses in MI, OH, and WI
Wild Harvest Organic Cut Leaf Spinach, 16 oz. frozen packages
UPC 11535 50170
Package code: SELL BY 08.DEC.2016 L084WE, Distributed to warehouses in AZ, CA, WA
Package code: SELL BY 22.JAN.2017 A225WE, Distributed to warehouses in PA and VA
Package code: SELL BY 30.JAN.2017 A305WE, Distributed to warehouses in DE, ME, PA, and VA
Package code: SELL BY 04.MAR.2017 C045WE, Distributed to warehouses in ME and PA
Wegmans Organic Just Picked Spinach, 12 oz. frozen packages
UPC 77890 32932
Package code: BEST USED BY JAN.26.2017 50265, Distributed to warehouses in NY and PA
Package code: BEST USED BY FEB.02.2017 50335, Distributed to warehouses in NY and PA
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recalled product was supplied to Twin City Foods by Coastal Green Vegetable Company LLC of Oxnard, CA, which initiated a recall of the bulk spinach on March 20, 2015, due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. Twin City Foods immediately notified all affected customers and initiated recalls of the retail packages on March 20, 2015.
Consumers who have purchased the affected product are urged to not consume the product and immediately return the product to the store where they purchased it for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the retailer at which they purchased the affected product.
This recall is being made with the knowledge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Consumers with any questions may contact Mark Hubbard at (804) 385-3772, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. EDT, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listeria bacteria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
The Carmel Food Group of Hayward, CA, has announced the recall of certain Rising Moon Organics frozen ravioli items because of the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes.
The frozen ravioli products were produced with organic spinach which was found in test results performed by the spinach supplier to show the presence of Listeria. The recall was initiated when it was discovered that certain lots of the listed items were produced with the ingredient in question.
Although the company is not aware of illnesses associated with this product, it is taking this precautionary action. Items and sell-by dates included in the recall are listed below:Item Description, Pack/Size UPC# Size UPC# Recalled Case SELL BY date(s) Recalled Package SELL BY date(s) Rising Moon Organics Garlic & Veggie Ravioli, 6/8 oz 7-85030-00011-3 010916 JAN092016 Rising Moon Organics Spinach Florentine Ravioli, 6/8 oz 7-85030-22770-1 011916 JAN192016 Rising Moon Organics Spinach & Cheese Ravioli, 6/8 oz 7-85030-55561-3 122215, 123015, 123115, 010216, 011916, 012016 DEC222015, DEC302016, DEC312016, JAN022016, JAN192016, JAN202016
The products affected by the recall are listed above with corresponding sell-by dates and were distributed through retail stores nationwide.
Consumers can return the product to their place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions can contact the company at (510) 429-0356. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PDT.
Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriage and stillbirths among pregnant women.
This past summer, consumers were confronted with a series of recalls of peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots and other stone fruits potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The fruit, sourced from Wawona Packing Co., was recalled from major retailers such as ALDI, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Kroger and Walmart. Many consumers began expressing concerns that they had been infected, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an enormous surge in traffic to its website from people looking up information on Listeria infection.
Now CDC has revealed that at least a handful of Listeria infections from the summer of 2014 were likely caused by the recalled fruit, according to a new report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The fruit was recalled in mid-July 2014. Within a month, CDC had found four human cases of listeriosis, in four different states, with infections with DNA similar to that found on the recalled fruit. Further testing with whole genome sequencing technology revealed that two of the four cases matched isolates from the fruit almost identically.
The four patients were from Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois and South Carolina, with the infections in the patients from Massachusetts and Minnesota having the most clear resemblance to Listeria from the fruits.
The Massachusetts patient reported eating nectarines and peaches purchased from a store that sold the recalled fruit, with receipts and purchasing data to prove it. The Minnesota patient, however, only had purchase records for peaches purchased after the recalled fruit had reportedly been removed from the store.
The South Carolina patient apparently did not eat any stone fruits prior to falling ill, while the patient in Illinois could not be reached.
Investigators concluded that the Massachusetts case was most likely connected to consuming the stone fruit, though the illness onset date suggests any consumed contaminated fruit was not included in the recall.
This is the first reported link between listeriosis and stone fruit, according to CDC.
“Although exposure to this recalled product was likely widespread, disease was very rare,” the report stated. “Therefore, this recall and associated illness does not provide sufficient evidence to recommend that persons at higher risk for listeriosis (e.g., pregnant women, persons aged ≥65 years, and immunocompromised persons) avoid fresh stone fruits. ”
“However,” investigators concluded, “it does support the need to understand risks associated with contaminated, ready-to-eat fresh fruit so that prevention strategies can be strengthened.”
(Update: According to the March 23 Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, CA, the Amy’s Kitchen recall of its branded products containing spinach was prompted by a recall notice from frozen vegetable processor Coastal Green Vegetable Co. of Oxnard, CA, warning customers that they might have been supplied with spinach potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
Paul Fanelli, a spokesman for Coastal Green, told the newspaper that his company was cooperating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and had contacted all the companies which might have received the suspect spinach.
Both Amy’s Kitchen and Coastal Green said they had not heard of any illnesses in connection with the potentially contaminated spinach.)
Amy’s Kitchen Inc. of Petaluma, CA, has recalled nearly 74,000 cases of its branded products containing organic spinach which may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The list of recalled products, including Vegetable Lasagna, Tofu Scramble, Enchilada Verde Whole Meal, and Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl, can be found here.
In a March 22 announcement, Amy’s stated that the company was informed of the possible presence of L. monocytogenes by one of its organic spinach suppliers. (Amy’s does not source any of its organic spinach from the same supplier which supplied Wegmans with its just-recalled bagged frozen spinach.)
The company stated that it was not aware of any illness complaints to date related to its recalled products but was recalling them as a precautionary measure based on the notice received from its supplier. The recalled products were distributed to stores nationwide in the U.S. and in Canada.
Consumers who have any of the Amy’s recalled products identified on the list are urged to dispose of them or return them to the store where they were purchased for an exchange or full refund. Consumers may also call Amy’s at (707) 781-7535, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PDT.
Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.